Friday, July 03, 2015

'A staggering level of incompetence': Judge blasts detective after re-trial of burglary suspects collapses leaving the taxpayer with a £100,000 bill

The bungling dickless Tracy concerned

A judge has blasted a detective for 'staggering incompetence' after the re-trial of three burglary suspects collapsed leaving the taxpayer with a £100,000 bill.

Detective Constable Sarah Northcott felt the wrath of Judge Simon Carr after he branded the case against the trio as one of the worst he had ever seen.

Stuart Bushell, 54, Thomas Lane, 25, and his brother Samuel, 22, were standing trial at Truro Crown Court accused of burgling the Bay Hotel in Port Isaac, Cornwall, one of the locations used in the popular ITV television series Doc Martin.

Their first trial was aborted a year ago after eight days when the jury failed to reach a verdict.

But today their retrial collapsed after four days with the judge blasting DC Northcott over a lack of photographic evidence, badly filled-out search records and incorrectly labelled exhibits.

He also said he felt the re-trial was only staged to 'cover-up the incompetence of the first hearing.'

The trio were alleged to have stolen £14,800 in cash and valuables from the hotel owners' private accommodation within the establishment.

Judge Carr said: 'I assume someone has reviewed the public interest (in continuing to prosecute the case). 'It has the feel of a (case) being prosecuted in order to cover up the incompetence of the first hearing.

'This was one of the worst-handled investigations I have ever seen. The officer seems to have completely misunderstood her role. 'She decided from the beginning she had solved the case and there was no need for further investigation.'

He said the mishandling of the case and the collapse of the trial had cost 'somewhere in the region of £100,000'.

Piers Norsworthy, defending Mr Bushell, argued the police investigation was 'fundamentally flawed'. He said: 'We are not saying there is any evidence of malice or corruption, but we are getting very close to the level of negligence where questions could be asked about whether this officer was competent to do this investigation.'

Mr Norsworthy gave examples of problems, including the lack of photographs from the search of Mr Bushell's home and DC Northcott's failure to complete search records accurately and include information on the unused schedule of material.

He also highlighted the detective's decision to return evidence to the alleged victim of the burglary Paul Williams.

In October the court heard the prosecution intended to have a retrial. Jonathan Barnes, for the prosecution, said DC Northcott would make a statement accepting errors identified by Detective Inspector William McWhirther's review of the case.

After the close of the prosecution case in the retrial, the counsel for the three defendants argued for a stay of the indictment on the grounds that there had been an abuse of process and was no case to answer.

He said Thomas Lane was only arrested because Mr Bushell told the officer he had spent the day with him. She failed to investigate the two defendant's explanations for cash being found at their premises.

In relation to Mr Bushell and Samuel Lane, of Coventry, Judge Carr stayed the indictment. In relation to Thomas Lane, he entered not guilty verdicts on the ground that there was nothing to link the money found in his house to the burglary.

Judge Carr said that despite his strong criticism there was no evidence DC Northcott had acted with malice.

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said a review of the matter by its professional standards department found no misconduct or dishonesty in DC Northcott.

He said: 'Locally, advice and guidance has been given to the detective around management and labelling of exhibits, which was unacceptable during this case.

'This has always been a matter of processes being reviewed, not a challenge to the integrity of any police officer.'

After the case, one of the cleared suspects, Mr Bushell said: 'I feel like it was a personal witch hunt against myself.'

Since being charged with burglary Mr Bushell said he was forced to leave Port Isaac and sell the lease on the tearoom he ran there because of stigma linked to the case.

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: 'The CPS must be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence and that it is in the public interest to prosecute. 'In this case, the reviewing lawyer felt both criteria were met and accordingly authorised the police to charge the defendants.

'Following the first trial, it was still felt these criteria were met and so a retrial was sought.'

Original report here

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